Early in any given year, some release or other is likely to take on the prematurely awarded and potentially dubious mantle of Zeitgeist Capturing Album of the Year. Fresh from his high placing in the BBC’s annual hype poll, James Blake’s eponymous debut has leapt into the hotseat, exciting the blogosphere in a way probably unheard of since Animal Collective’s last offering.
Unlike the labyrinthine Merriweather Post Pavilion, James Blake is a simpler affair, its sparse tracks giving the impression that each element has been considered at length. What Blake does with a laptop is most apparent in his restructuring of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’. His Radio 1 endorsed lead single doesn’t mess with the song structure, but strips out the body of the original arrangement (leaving only the soul, it might be suggested), replacing its warm pianos with stark vocals and minimal electronic clicks.
Some naysayers grumble that although his debut thrives on high cool production, its technological advancement only serves to obscure the insipid, samey torch songs of the remainder. Even if this was a fair call – the fact his songs call to mind Antony Hegarty on occasion suggests not, but perceptions may alter over time – complaints of style over substance are conservative, out of step with the current music scene.
In the adventurous indie world, the way the artist realises their ideas is just as much a part of the substance of the music as songwriting in the traditional sense – with Blake’s combination of form with production values both subtle and largely original, his album will prove itself worthy of some attention, especially by comparison with the majority of music it finds itself alongside on the Radio 1 playlist.
Like The xx’s similarly hushed debut, James Blake might just make inroads into the mainstream imagination.